This post might be rambling, but I feel like it’s important for me to write. It’s easy to claim to be a feminist; nearly every woman does. Really, the only people who don’t consider themselves a feminist would be those who either don’t understand what the word means, or truly don’t believe that women should have equal rights and protections.
There are a subset of people, typically those who fall into the first category of not understanding what feminist means or why it’s important, that claim that women already have equal rights. What more could we possible want?
I’m reminded of a pretty basic concept taught in civics classes growing up. That is, the difference between de facto and de jure segregation. On paper, we have many of the same rights as men. In reality, however, the implementation of those rights isn’t always equal across the board. Even more than that, there are protections and laws that apply to women and not men. Consider the following:
- A woman needs a pap smear, but her local clinic has been shut down because they also provide abortions and state restrictions have made it next to impossible to keep open a women’s health clinic in which only 3% of their services go toward abortion.
- A trans woman needs to use the restroom, but she is afraid of being harassed if she goes into the men’s restroom since there is a law stating that she must use the bathroom of her biological sex stated on her birth certificate, even though she has transitioned and has identified as a woman for the past twenty years.
- An executive at a prestigious firm decided that she doesn’t want children, but she is still paid less than her male counterparts because she might “change her mind someday” and want to take time off to marry and start a family. This isn’t explicitly stated to her, but she never realizes the discrepancy between her income and male colleagues.
- An undocumented immigrant is being abused by her husband, but she is afraid to leave him or go to the authorities because she may be deported or have her children taken away from her.
- A teenager has the potential to be a world-class physicist, but her female science teacher tells her that girls can’t get that far. Instead, maybe she should just think about going to school to be a science teacher.
- A mother has no choice but to return to work after the six week state mandated maternity leave period, leaving her new baby in the only daycare that she can afford. Not only that, but pumping at her office, while allowed, is inconvenient and frowned upon.
- A college student is raped while she was drunk, and now must not only testify in front of both her rapist and a jury, but is also subject to judgment across social media because maybe she shouldn’t have been drinking or worn such a short skirt. Not only that, but she had sexual relations with her rapist in the past, even went so far as to send him nude photos of her, so it’s obviously her fault.
- A female marine just wants to serve her country, but is the victim of constant harassment by other male soldiers who use the armed services as a “boys club” – if she can’t handle it, then she shouldn’t be a part of it.
These are just a few examples of why we need feminism in the world. Women need both equal protection and equal enforcement of the law. Not only that, but as seen in a few of the examples above, there are issues that affect women only. These are things that need to be legislated; from maternity leave to protections for rape victims (which also affect men) and the right to equal pay. De jure and de facto equality is a thing, and something we need to be aware of. So next time you say “But women are already equal under the law!” please think of those who might have those protections, but they aren’t implemented equally across the board. Or aren’t even considered because they don’t directly apply to the men legislating.
I used to think that feminism was about choice, but it goes far beyond that. It goes far beyond consent and equality as well. It’s about guaranteeing that people, regardless of their biological sex or identified gender or sexual orientation or country of origin or socioeconomic status or thousands of other things, are given both equal opportunity and consideration under the law. And that is why today is matters.
***Note: Please don’t use the excuse “But what about so-and-so country! The women there are treated terribly!” I’m not talking about those countries. Yes, women need equal rights around the world, but we need to start at home. You saying that while simultaneously claiming that we shouldn’t help starving children in Africa because we have homeless veterans at home is an excuse. And just shows me that you care about nobody other than yourself.***